The Popish Plot 1678 - 1681

Books have been written about this. Essentially it was a fraud, but it convulsed the country and forced both the King’s brother and heir, James, Duke of York into exile and the Earl of Danby, Lauderdale’s principal ally, into the Tower. Lauderdale was accused of Catholic sympathies. With his covenanting background this was not a convincing charge.

Chaos in Scotland

Scotland, meanwhile, was in chaos, though the stability of the Government was not threatened. Military clashes at Edinburgh, Ayrshire, Drumclog and Lesmahago in Lanarkshire were compounded by the murder near St Andrews of Archbishop Sharp in May 1679. Covenanter rebels were active, and Lauderdale was unable to control the situation.

Charles decided on 8th June to send his illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth to Scotland with full authority as a plenipotentiary, thereby taking over Lauderdale’s powers. Lauderdale met Monmouth with instructions on the 14th June. Monmouth decisively defeated a Covenanter force at Bothwell Brig on the 22nd June.

After a Privy Council meeting at Windsor on 8th July instructions were sent to Monmouth to give him full discretion to pardon the rebels, thus reversing Lauderdale’s (and Charles’) policies. Monmouth returned to London at the end of July. Charles commended Lauderdale in a letter to the Scottish Privy Council, and in Cal. of State Papers, Dom Ser 1679-80, p 429 asserted that he had no council “except the Duchess of Portland, the French ambassador, Lord Duras, Earl of Faversham, and the Duke of Lauderdale”

Charles’ illness in August brought James back (on Lauderdale’s advice) to England from Brussels, where he had retired during the agitation of the Popish Plot, but it was important to get James out of England again as soon as possible.

Charles had lost confidence in Lauderdale’s ability to govern, and also required a suitable post outside England for James, who was appointed High Commissioner in Scotland at the end of 1679, thus effectively superseding Lauderdale who remained in office in London as Secretary of State for Scotland. Correspondence at this period shows York’s reliance on Lauderdale’s advice.

Last months in office

Early in 1680 – perhaps in March, Lauderdale seems to have suffered a stroke or heart attack. Contemporary writers comment of the rapid onset of old age at this time, with a decay in both physical capacity and mental acuity. He also suffered from kidney stones, a source of acute pain, which explains much of the deterioration of his temper. He spent the succeeding months at Tunbridge Wells and Bath, taking the waters, and consequently his influence over Scottish affairs was in sharp decline before his resignation in October 1680.

Was he disgraced?

Many commentators assert that Lauderdale was disgraced, pointing to the loss of his pension. However, the facts point in a different direction.

When Danby and Clarendon lost office, Danby was sent to the Tower in 1679 as a prisoner, whilst Clarendon was dismissed by Charles and advised by him to flee the country to avoid arrest and impeachment. Dismissal was often followed by attempts to recover embezzled funds. Lauderdale suffered neither imprisonment nor exile and was not pursued for embezzled funds – though after his death, his brother Charles Maitland of Hatton, the 3rd Earl was successfully prosecuted.

In Lauderdale’s case, Charles supported him against a wide variety of attacks until Lauderdale’s loss of control in Scotland. Even when replaced in 1679 by Monmouth and the Duke of York and his policies reversed, he retained his post at Whitehall and his emoluments for a year until he resigned late in 1680 due to ill health and incapacity.

When urged to remove Lauderdale, York responded “he had served the King very well and was his particular friend, of which he had many testimonies in his absence.” Lauderdale had advised Charles in August 1679 to recall James from Brussels and then when matters became difficult in England, advised Charles to send York to Scotland – thus ensuring his own supersession.

His pension of £4,000 a year was stopped by Charles on the advice of the Privy Council for Scotland who advised him to call in all the pensions he had granted, not just Lauderdale’s. The amount was disproportionate, taken from a total Scottish revenue of only £60,000 a year. No attempts were made to impeach him or to recover funds. His influence continued until his death, and he was able to protect his brother Charles Maitland of Hatton against endless attacks, which culminated after Lauderdale’s death in his prosecution and conviction for mal-administration.

Although his fall from power gave his enemies scope to attack him, the attacks did not amount to disgrace.

Death and funeral

Lauderdale’s health deteriorated after his resignation and he spent much of his time at Tunbridge Wells where he was finally taken ill on the 22 August 1683, and died two days later on the 24th.

Principal source W.C. Mackenzie, The Life and Times of the Duke of Lauderdale, 1923